Why Self-Compassion Matters:
Self-compassion stands as the antithesis of self-criticism. It’s about extending kindness to yourself, especially in life’s most trying moments. It involves speaking to yourself in the same gentle and caring way you’d talk to someone you deeply cherish. Self-compassion is a potent tool, and there are compelling reasons to cultivate it. Research reveals its remarkable impact on our well-being.
The Soothe System:
Within our brains, we possess a remarkable system called the soothe system. This system aids in managing stressful situations and regulating our sense of contentment and inner peace. Moreover, it has the power to dial down our brain’s threat system—the source of negative emotions like anxiety and anger. By developing self-compassion, we can harness this tool to our advantage.
The Role of Kindness:
Research demonstrates that the soothe system is activated through kindness. A telling example is observed in the relationship between parents and their children. When parents leave a room, their child may become distressed, but upon their return and a comforting gesture, the child calms down. This highlights the soothing power of kindness from others. However, what’s equally intriguing is that our brains don’t differentiate between kindness from others and kindness from within. In essence, our self-compassion has the same remarkable capacity to activate the soothe system.
Self-criticism emerges from the threat system, which entails negative self-talk about who we are as individuals. As mentioned earlier, our brain doesn’t discern between what is real and what isn’t. This includes the impact of self-criticism on ourselves. Your brain doesn’t differentiate between you criticising yourself and someone else criticising you; it simply registers criticism as fact if heard enough times.
Now, imagine you’re with someone who constantly criticises you 24 hours a day. Ask yourself, how would this constant criticism make you feel? Would you enjoy their company? Would you like them? Would you choose to spend more time with them? How would their presence affect you?
Next, apply these same questions to your relationship with yourself and self-criticism. How does self-criticism make you feel? Would you enjoy your own company? Would you like yourself? The impact on you can be just as detrimental, if not worse, because when you’re self-critical, there’s no escaping it – you’re stuck with yourself 24 hours a day!
If our subconscious mind repeatedly encounters certain messages, it internalises them as truths. Consequently, these messages shape our self-perception. This underscores the crucial role of self-compassion as an indispensable tool for everyone.
How to Introduce Self-Compassion:
To introduce self-compassion into your life, begin by paying close attention to the triggers that lead to self-criticism. You likely have specific situations or circumstances that tend to set off your inner critic, such as social interactions, work-related tasks, or your role as a parent or partner. Once you’ve pinpointed your triggers, you can become more conscious of when self-criticism rears its head.
Take a Breath:
When you recognize self-criticism creeping in, take a deep breath. Then, conjure an image in your mind — the compassionate version of yourself. This image is still you, but this version is never critical. Instead, they are consistently kind and loving to themselves, even on days when you feel like you don’t deserve it. This compassionate self-understands that you’re not perfect, that you’ll make mistakes and encounter challenges, but you’re always doing your best and learning from these experiences. To help you visualize this, imagine sitting with the person you love most in the world, and they’re experiencing the same feelings you are, yearning for your kind and encouraging words.
Next, pose these questions to yourself: What might this compassionate version of you say about the current situation? How would you respond to the person you care about most if they were criticizing themselves for the same thing you’re experiencing?
To illustrate, consider this scenario: You’ve made an error at work that has led to a customer complaint, resulting in a meeting with your boss. As you leave work, you find yourself immersed in self-criticism, labeling yourself as an “idiot,” deeming yourself unworthy of the job, and feeling that you’ve let everyone down.
Now, the compassionate version of you would likely transform this self-criticism into something like this: “It’s true, I made an error in judgment today, but I did so with the best intentions. I never intended to cause problems or upset customers. I show up to work every day with the genuine desire to do my best, and my best is sufficient. I’m only human, and occasional missteps are inevitable. What I can do now is learn from this experience and use it as a stepping stone for personal growth. Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and no one thinks any less of me for it, so there’s no need to be overly harsh on myself.”
As mentioned earlier, if the person you care about most were to make a similar mistake at work and express self-criticism to you, you would be unlikely to respond with labels like “idiot” or “unworthy.” This approach serves as a practical method for learning how to speak to yourself with kindness and compassion.
Compassion Within Us:
If you can extend kindness to others, then you possess compassion within yourself. However, our ability to show kindness to others often stands in stark contrast to how we treat ourselves. This disparity is often rooted in fear and our relationship with ourselves. Fear plays a significant role in this dynamic. For instance, if you have a fear of failure, you may find yourself being overly critical of the things you fear failing at or not doing well. Compassion becomes more readily accessible when offering advice to others because the same level of fear isn’t present. But this doesn’t mean you deserve self-compassion any less. If you wouldn’t speak to a loved one in a harsh manner, then make it a rule not to speak to yourself that way. Learn to love yourself as much as you do them!
Other Ways to Cultivate Self-Compassion:
There are additional methods to nurture self-compassion, such as engaging in self-compassionate behaviors and practicing letter writing. If you’re interested in learning more or want to access my mini-course on self-compassion, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
I’d like you to contemplate just one of the benefits of being harsh on yourself for the mistakes you make or for things you might later regret, as we all do from time to time. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve caused upset to someone. How does being hard on yourself improve this situation? Does it make them feel better? Does it make you feel better? Does it turn back time and undo the damage? Does it lead to a positive outcome for anyone involved? The answer to all these questions is a resounding “no.” In fact, self-criticism tends to leave you feeling even worse.
What truly matters is that we learn from these situations and take the right steps for everyone involved. Self-compassion is the key to achieving this. The next time you make an error in judgment, try self-compassion, and see how it feels different and leads to a better outcome for all.